60% of Water Used by Mining Sector Comes From Wastewater
According to Karen Flores, Director, CAMIMEX, more than 60% of the water consumed by the mining sector players affiliated with the chamber comes from treated and recycled wastewater. The figure contradicts recent statements from Mexican authorities, which suggested that companies are overly reliant on scarce drinking water.
Flores explained that for their operations, companies gain access to water in two ways: from licenses granted by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and from “free use” water associated with the mining.
In 2020, the Mexican Institute of Water Technology (IMTA) reported that water concessioned to the mining industry amounted to 462.4 million m³/y. Nonetheless, CONAGUA and CAMIMEX agreed on the use of around 300 million m³/y.
“All our members comply with the regulatory framework of the water concessions scheme and they follow national and international standards,” Flores said.
She further highlighted that CAMIMEX members implement closed water circuits to reuse the resource and avoid discharges. “The mining industry is working toward the goal of zero discharges,” added the director.
The Public Registry of Water Rights (REPDA) points out that the volume of water concessioned to the mining sector represents an estimated 0.35% of the national total. In comparison, 76% of water in the country is concessioned for agricultural use, 14% for public supply, 5% for the energy sector and 5% for the industrial sector.
The mining industry has often been accused of requiring too much water to operate. According to the Mexican Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, María Albores, much of the water extracted is used for projects involving copper, steel and gold. She also said 66% of the water concessions involve water deposits nearing depletion. Over 19% of the water concessions granted for the extraction of metals are in already overexploited deposits.
Pedrozo Acuña, Director General, IMTA, warned that by 2050, the greatest natural threat to the mining industry will be the lack of water. For this reason, he urged mining companies to make their processes more efficient and avoid water pollution. Mining companies must also analyze how their operations interact with the environment and communities.
Although efforts are being made to improve water management, some decision-makers are still reluctant to invest in those solutions. "Since water is not a direct operational risk, it is often not well understood. However, water risks can shut down production or undercut a company's social license to operate," said Sarah MacKay, Water Services, ERM.